Unforgetting Our 2nd Language (the Innateness of Making Images)

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We see drawing as normal for a kid, but unproductive for adults (unless it makes you money). C’mon now!!

When is the last time you drew something? Perhaps it’s been awhile. Virtually all of us drew lots when we were children; scribbles, suns, letters strewn together (letters are images, writing is a form of drawing), faces, blobs of color. After language, drawing is perhaps the most essential and universal form of human communication.

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4 y.o. (Drawn, cut, pasted on another paper)

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3 y.o. (Amorphous blobs that begin to look portrait-like)

It is as if the modern human soul awakened here.” – Werner Herzog, director

If you choose to set aside this post and draw for the next 30 minutes (or 10 minutes), then I consider this piece a profound success. If you continue reading after your drawing session, then hopefully you will see this request for you to tweet to me what you drew for inclusion in this post.

So often we hear about “good” PD as being the kind you can implement the next day – a new trick to toss into the old tool kit. I’m all for relevance and real-world application in professional learning – but I also think gathering under an oak tree on a staff hike is pretty sweet too (regardless of topic discussed, if any).

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Hall Middle Art teacher Alexis Firsty’s “reflection” on our opening day PD hike (drawn from real life). 

At a recent staff meeting, Speech-Language Therapist and arts integration specialist Rebecca Prather borrowed some inspiration from Lynda Barry‘s Syllabus  to lead us through a drawing/writing exercise. This can feel unexpected in the context of a faculty meeting – which makes it all the more indispensable and vital (hint: do this at your next meeting). Directions:

  1. Sit in a big circle as a staff, or in concentric rows if you’re a bigger group (chairs optional).
  2. Fold an 8.5×11 piece of paper so that you get eight “cells” (think comics).
  3. 10 seconds (no more!) to write down a profession on the first cell (please don’t be hindered by your narrow view of what constitutes a “job!”).
  4. Now pass the paper to your right. 10 seconds to write another profession in cell 2, etc. (Yes, 10 seconds is quite brief – all a part of the fun of dropping away our tendency to overthink things…)
  5. Now we’re done with professions…Repeat step 2, but this time DRAW the listed profession (you get a whopping 20 seconds for this – you’re welcome!). Pass to the right. (No, there is no way to anticipate the job you will have to illustrate next).
  6. Once all eight are drawn, pick one of the professions and write about it on the back for one entire minute! PS: under no circumstances are you to stop during those 60 seconds!! (When is the last time you wrote for one entire minute without stopping?)

I have a major in Fine Arts; I’ve spent plenty of time in my life drawing (not as much as an adult as I’d like, however). Yet, despite all of this previous experience, what I loved most about this activity was how it made me uncomfortable right away – no room to be a perfectionist, to worry about how something looks. Only room to go with it, to let the hand lead my eyes and mind, to feel judgement fall away and simply embrace the mess.

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16 people contributed to this surreal (brilliantly so) comic strip! (I wrote about the chipmunk trainer)

(Lynda Barry gets a shout-out (draw-out?) from David in his terrific short-form blog)

As all things are connected, the teaching staff at my former home Tamalpais High School spent an hour of their 3.14 staff development day engaged in drawing, painting and ceramics. What happens when we let go of pre-conceived notions of what meetings are supposed to be? When we relinquish control, set aside outcomes/agendas and let adults simply make something? Here’s what one teacher said about the experience:

“Spending an hour playing with clay with my colleagues made for a fun break in the day and a great way to build community as a staff. I’m so impressed by the creativity of my colleagues.”

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Hmmm…noticing lots (and lots) of SMILES. (That can’t be bad, right?)

At the 2015 Fall CUE I facilitated a session called (take a really deep breath first) “Cross Pollinate to Unleash Organizational Creativity and Open Source Idea Flow.” The facilitation was super technical:

  1. Roll out a super-long piece of butcher paper.
  2. Give people pens and post-its.
  3. Ask people to share ideas, quotes, images, etc. that inspire them (preferably outside of education – let’s jump out of our pond from time to time…).
  4. Ask participants to interact with each other’s ideas on the butcher paper – an analog bit of social media.

Not sure if I got it on film, but one person taped a plastic water bottle to the paper! (El Nino arrived in full force in California just months later, so – thank you!!)

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I was thrilled to see one of the participants take this idea to her classroom:

Seven years into a district-wide emphasis on Arts Integration, we also have tremendous examples of adults and students “Making Learning Visible” with similar practices. The poster below is hanging in our Faculty Lounge.

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Here’s my most recent drawing, made during a visit to a 7th grade Humanities classroom. One kid in particular was really having a great time doing some friendly trash-talking (bring it on), so I drew for him a one-cell comic, complete with teddy bear (not sure if he had brought it to school that day in particular…). Notice my awesome sun, and the clouds I think are working quite well, given the mood I was looking to strike with this piece.

They were two well-spent minutes that made me smile, made the recipient smile (after all, he’s got a cool new decoration for his room), and made his friend ask me when I was going to draw a comic for him.

4 thoughts on “Unforgetting Our 2nd Language (the Innateness of Making Images)

  1. Awesome.
    Period.
    This is inspirational and something I think my staff would love. I particularly like the (mild, loving, welcome) discomfort and the idea of teachers from different disciplines making connections! Thanks for sharing this.

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